Spitsbergen Expedition: Grand Finale

For the past two weeks, 2011 Emerging Explorer Jørn Hurum has been leading a fossil-finding expedition to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, continuing the work that has yielded many spectacular fossils through the years (Giant “Sea Monster” Fossil Discovered). This is the team’s final update from the field.

Day 12

Today we had a big job preparing the dolphin-like ichthyosaur fossil called “Nillefanten” for the transport back to the museum. Coated in plaster with supports embedded, it can can be flipped out of the ground and then carried away intact. This is far more efficient and preserves much more context than excavating each bone individually in the field.

Øyvind, Nille, Jørn, and Julie make the plaster jacket that will enable the fossil to be flipped out of the Earth and transported intact. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


The jacket for “Nillefanten” is the biggest we have made this year so when flipping it the whole team had to join forces. The whole process was very well documented by a German film team.

The whole team pitches in to help flip "Nillefanten." Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


Acting as the eyes and ears for thousands who couldn't be there in person, a German film crew records the flipping of the fossil. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.

This year’s expedition has been great, with many nice fossils taken out, and many new discoveries made. One day the team went out to have a look at the surroundings. The group that went west of the camp found seven new fossils and the group that went to the east found five new marine reptiles in less than two hours!

This area is incredibly rich, and if we were to uncover every new discovery we would never be able to leave. But the helicopter is coming tomorrow so there is no alternative but to close the pits and prepare fossils and people for the return to civilization.

(Photo: Espen stabilizing the plaster jackets for the transport back to the Natural History museum in Oslo).

Espen stabilizes the plaster jackets for the transport back to the Natural History Museum in Oslo. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


We are very happy with this year’s expedition, no polar bear attacks, only happy memories.

Tommy watches for polar bears as the expedition draws to a close. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


Goodbye Mount Janus, only 350 days to the next round of fun and new discoveries at Spitsbergen.

The team's camp is just visible as tiny red and white specks on the dark rocks and soil of the slopes of Mount Janus, a stark reminder of how remote and isolated this rich and beloved fossil bed is. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


Relive the excitement of the 2011 Spitsbergen “Sea Monster” Expedition in the full set of posts from the past two weeks.





Meet the Author
Jørn Harald Hurum was born in Drammen, a city on southeastern Norway. Since childhood he has collected fossils and minerals in the Oslo region. Since 2000 he has been employed at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo where he works as an associate professor in vertebrate paleontology. At the University he teaches paleontology and evolutionary biology and supervises masters and Ph.D. students. One recent outreach effort brought him on stage before a general audience interested in his Arctic island project excavating fossils of ancient sea monsters. “There was a four-year-old in the front row and he couldn’t stop asking questions, really good questions” Hurum remembers. “This little boy was so excited to know there was somebody else who understood the things he was wondering about. He made my whole day! As a child, I felt very alone with my interest in fossils. Finally at age 13, I discovered there was a museum in Norway that actually employed people to study paleontology. I started corresponding with those scientists and it was such a relief, such an inspiration. I hope I can give some of that spirit back to the next generation.” Learn More About Jørn and His Work